Theater review: 'The Value of Names' at West Coast Jewish Theatre
Legendary Hollywood director Leo Greshen, the antagonist in Jeffrey Sweet’s flawed but compelling drama “The Value of Names,” presented by the West Coast Jewish Theatre at the Pico Playhouse, understands that well. Thirty years previously, Leo (authoritative, vigorous Malachi Throne) appeared before the House Un-American Activities Committee, denouncing several contemporaries, including his best friend, actor Benny Silverman (Peter Mark Richman), with whom he shared a friendship dating to their early days in theater.
The play is set in 1983 outside Benny’s Malibu home – a sun-kissed terrace beautifully realized by set designer Jeff G. Rack and lighting designer Ellen Monocroussos. After years of unemployment, Benny, now retired, finally recouped his fortunes on a hit sitcom, but neither present prosperity nor the intervening decades have dulled his acute outrage over Leo’s betrayal. Nor have the years erased the ineradicable blot on Leo’s reputation.
When Benny’s daughter, Norma (engaging Stasha Surdyke), is cast in a play Leo winds up directing, the old antagonists meet again.
Although Sweet’s device of making Norma the intermittent narrator seems klunky and uneven, Leo and Benny’s confrontation is a clash of titans, sizzling with wit and bitterness. Director Howard Teichman keeps the tone convincingly naturalistic in an assured staging. Initially, Richman seems to be groping for lines, but once he gets on stage with Throne, any hesitancy evaporates. Wonderful character actors, the two have a field day playing off each other and captivate us in the process.
-- F. Kathleen Foley
“The Value of Names,” Pico Playhouse, 10508 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. 8 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays, 2 and 7 p.m. Sundays. Ends Nov. 22. $22-$35. (323) 506-8024. www.wcjt.org. Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes.
Above: From left, Peter Mark Richman, Stasha Surdyke and Malachi Throne in "The Value of Names." Photo credit: Michael Lamont